- Because Westerns are mythical, they depend heavily on familiar conventions, symbols, and characters. At times these features of Westerns become cliches. Among the most common cliches are the opening scenes: Two lonely riders saunter into town against a bleak landscape. Adog runs across the road ahead without giving the men the slightest glance—the opening of William Wellman’s The Ox-Bow Incident (1943). A group of men dressed in pre–World War I U.S. Army uniforms saunter into town against a bleak landscape. Children play beside the road ahead without giving the men the slightest glance—the opening of Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969). Asolitary man awaits something, standing high in the desolate rocks above the rutted road below. Two companions appear. He joins them, and they saunter into town—the opening of High Noon (1952). A lone rider and horse move slowly across the stark and barren landscape. Upon closer inspection, we realize he is the hero of the film— the opening of both Fritz Lang’s Western Union (1941) and Robert Aldrich’s The Last Sunset(1961). Somber music invariably plays and in films after the 1960s, the credits often roll. Dramatic action to come is strongly implied, and the suspense holds our interest. The cliche may be used often, but it is often used effectively. Other cliches abound in Westerns. Often the hero is himself a reformed outlaw. (But, of course, his crimes must have been rather minor.) The villain is frequently the actual culprit in a situation in which the hero himself is accused. The villain typically knows in advance that the railroad is coming through; therefore he must eliminate undesirables from property he hopes to purchase and then sell to the railroads. When the cowboy heromakes a dramatic entrance through the batwing saloon doors, the man playing the piano abruptly stops. And, of course, when the movie ends the hero rides off into the sunset.
Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. Paul Varner. 2012.
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